Only foreign workers can solve govt IT skills crisis

Summary:Not enough migrant workers are being hired to work in public service IT, which is contributing to a government-wide ICT skills shortage, according to a report by the Australian Government Information Management Office.

Not enough migrant workers are being hired to work in public service IT, which is contributing to a government-wide ICT skills shortage, according to a report by the Australian Government Information Management Office.

The report, entitled Meeting the demand for ICT skills in the Australian public service -- now and in the future suggested that more effort should be made across the public service to recruit workers from abroad.

According to the report, in 2005/06, around 4,500 management and information professionals were nominated by employers under long-stay business visas, but fewer than 20 went on to be hired by the public service.

The complexity of obtaining the necessary security clearance for migrant workers and confusion over government policy are partially to blame for the lack of foreign staff being hired, the report said.

The report goes on to recommend "agencies are provided with clear advice on the process for engaging non-Australian citizens and that a whole-of-government approach or means of streamlining the process be investigated."

Hiring more workers from abroad is just one of the measures the report believes can help solve the government ICT skills shortage: it also proposes action to tackle the falling number of students enrolling in IT courses at universities.

The government is hoping to make IT more attractive by changing the traditional perception of an IT worker as someone "sitting alone, computer bound, programming all day" into someone who is a business-savvy professional with project management and soft skills.

Some universities have already been introducing business-flavoured IT courses, including the University of Queensland, which has launched combined degrees such as ICT with economics or ICT with business.

"Universities stand to gain a lot by incorporating business skills into ICT courses as it will make ICT more attractive to potential students by balancing the technical load and will deliver strong graduates to the industry," the report notes.

Government agencies have already begun talks with higher education institutions over changing courses to include more business-focused modules, alongside traditional technology training, to help with future public service tech needs.

However, senior politicians recently hit out at the government's IT skills policy.

Speaking last week in Sydney, Labor communications spokesperson Stephen Conroy said: "Australia is facing a skills crisis in the sector. We need to think of the pipeline effect that will have in the next couple of years. It's only going to get worse."

Topics: Government, Government : AU, IT Employment

About

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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